J. W. Myers sings “Break The News To Mother” on Columbia Phonograph Co. cylinder 4586, issued around 1902. This song is by Charles K. Harris, who wrote the famous “After The Ball.”
While the shot and shell were
screaming upon the battlefield,
the boys in blue were fighting,
their noble flag to shield. Came
a cry from their brave captain:
“Look, boys! our flag is down!
Who’ll volunteer to save it
“I will,” a young boy shouted.
“I’ll bring it back or die!” Then
sprang into the thickest of the
fray! Saved the flag but gave his
young life–all for his country’s
sake. They brought him back
and softly heard him say:
“Just break the news to mother.
She knows how dear I love her,
and tell her not to wait for me,
for I’m not coming home. Just say
there is no other can take the
place of mother. Then kiss her
dear sweet lips for me, and break
the news to her.”
John W. Myers, usually identified on records as J. W. Myers, was arguably the leading baritone balladeer in the first decade of commercial recordings, working regularly from the early 1890s to 1904 or so, after which a drop in his output is dramatic.
Born in Wales, Myers immigrated to America at age 12 and worked at various jobs, eventually becoming a theatrical manager in New York.
A catalog issued in 1898 by Columbia’s New England headquarters–the Eastern Talking Machine Company at 17 Tremont Street, Boston–lists over fifty Myers titles and states, “J. W. Myers, the famous baritone, whose records have achieved a wonderful popularity, has recently made a contract to sing exclusively for the Columbia Phonograph Company.”
Although Columbia’s 1898 catalog identifies Myers as exclusive to that company, Myers cut dozens of titles for Berliner, having sessions as late as November 1897, March 1898, and December 1898. Columbia at that time made only cylinders. His contract may have allowed him to make discs for Berliner.
The May 10, 1901, catalog of Zon-o-phone discs issued by the National Gramophone Corporation lists seven titles sung by Myers.
He cut over 100 titles in the early days of the Victor Talking Machine Company, beginning on February 20, 1901, with performances issued on seven-inch discs. Sessions in October 1902 would be his last for Victor for a few years.
For Edison he cut a couple dozen titles, most of them in 1901, beginning with “Light of the Sea” (7820). He was a versatile artist, covering sentimental standards (“We’ll Be Sweethearts to the End,” 9498), bass-baritone classics (“Rocked in the Cradle of the Deep,” 7840), and comic numbers.
After “The Bridge” (8010) was released in 1902, he stopped making Edison records for a few years, finally returning with “Night Time” (9470), issued in February 1907.
Announcing its release, the December 1906 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly states, “Mr. Myers was always a favorite among admirers of the Edison Phonograph and Edison Records, and his re-enlistment in the Edison corps of artists will be pleasing news to them.”
By this time Myers recorded mainly sentimental numbers and songs of a previous generation. The February 1907 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly, announcing the April release of Standard 9524, states, “‘The Bowery Grenadiers,’ by J.W. Myers, is a revival of an old song that will awaken more than ordinary interest. It will recall by-gone days, when the late John W. Kelly entertained thousands with it. Thirty or more years ago it was one of the most popular songs of the day.”
His final Edison recording was “Land League Band” (9576), issued in June 1907. The April 1907 issue of Edison Phonograph Monthly calls this “a lively old march song popular a generation ago.” Myers was issued only on two-minute wax cylinders, his career with Edison being over by the time four-minute wax Amberols were introduced in 1908.
He was popular abroad. The February 15, 1906, issue of the Talking Machine News, published in London, noted, “The newsboys of London and New York whistle the same tunes, whether they are ‘Navajo,’ ‘My Irish Molly O,’ ‘Bedelia’ or ‘In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree,’ because the talker has made them known on both sides of the ocean….If George Alexander or Henry Burr or J.W. Myers were to advertise a concert in the Albert Hall next month, nine-tenths of their audience would be talking machine users.”
In late 1905 he cut titles for Leeds & Catlin, which issued Myer performances on over a dozen Imperial discs, beginning with “Somebody’s Sweetheart I Want to Be” (44637) in January 1906 (Imperial discs sold for sixty cents). Edison and Victor issued Myers recordings until 1907. One of his last Columbia recordings was a new take, with orchestra accompaniment, of “Where the Silv’ry Colorado Wends Its Way,” issued in January 1909 on A610.
His singing style was losing its appeal, and recording activity again dropped off.
Walsh concluded that he died around 1919.
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